The last four teams in college soccer take to BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston this weekend for the NCAA College Cup semifinals.
The Stanford Cardinal come into the semifinals vying for a second-straight national title, while powerhouse Wake Forest looks to make its first title game since 2007. Undefeated Denver has shocked the nation all year and continues to make history with the school’s run in the tournament.
DENVER VS. WAKE FOREST
Denver is making its first ever College Cup in only the program’s seventh NCAA tournament appearance. Under coach Jamie Franks, Denver meets its former manager in Wake Forest coach Bobby Muuss.
The Pioneers, however, have been toward the top all season. The six-seed earned a spot in the semifinal thanks to a late winner from defender Kortne Ford to defeat last season’s runner-up Clemson. Up until the narrow triumph over Clemson, Denver rolled through the early rounds of the tournament with wins over Washignton and UNLV.
Second-seeded Wake Forest is the highest-seeded team remaining in the NCAA tournament. The Demon Deacons enjoyed a similarly dominant trip to the semifinal with wins over Coastal Carolina, SIU-Edwardsville and Virginia Tech.
John Harkes’ son, Ian Harkes, is a key player on Wake Forest’s squad, but top scorer Jacori Hayes is the team’s main attacking threat. Freshman Ema Twumasi is one of Wake Forest’s most dangerous midfield creators, with six goals and four assists on the season.
Denver’s success this season has been built upon a strong defense, anchored by defenders Kortne Ford, Scott DeVoss and Reagan Dunk. The Pioneers only allowed 11 goals during the entire regular season behind goalkeeper Nick Gardner.
Players to watch: Reagan Dunk (Denver), Scott DeVoss (Denver), Kortne Ford (Denver), Andre Shinyashiki (Denver), Ema Twumasi (Wake Forest), Jacori Hayes (Wake Forest), Ian Harkes (Wake Forest)
SBI pick: Wake Forest. Coming from the ACC, Wake Forest will have too much quality for Denver to match. While the Pioneers have put together a great run in the tournament, the team hasn’t faced a ton of competition other than Clemson. Wake Forest won the ACC this season and has enough quality to stop Denver from achieving its first title game appearance in school history.
STANFORD VS. NORTH CAROLINA
Stanford looks to defend its championship from last season in Houston against another traditional powerhouse in college soccer.
North Carolina earned itself a smooth trip through the tournament as the ninth seed. A narrow 1-0 win over eight-seed Syracuse allowed the Tar Heels to edge Providence, which pulled off a stunning upset of top seed Maryland in the Second Round.
Defending champions Stanford didn’t pass the regular season with flying colors, but still entered the tournament as a five-seed. Stanford defeated Louisville away from home in the quarterfinal to earn its second-straight College Cup appearance.
After the final last season, Stanford lost a number of players. Former Cardinal star Jordan Morris takes the Sounders into their biggest game in club history Saturday in MLS Cup, while reliable defender Brandon Vincent moved on from Stanford to play for the Chicago Fire.
What remains for Stanford is enough to make it back here again. Stanford forward Foster Langsdorf fired in 15 goals this season, while the Cardinal retains last season’s penalty shootout hero in goalkeeper Andrew Epstein.
Behind forward Tucker Hume and one of the best defenses in the nation, North Carolina head coach Charles Soamano looks to capture his second NCAA title. He previously won the tournament in 2011.
North Carolina is third only to Denver and Wake Forest in goals against average and has only allowed 15 total goals this season.
Players to watch: Corey Baird (Stanford), Amir Bashti (Stanford), Andrew Epstein (Stanford), Foster Langsdorf (Stanford), Tucker Hume (North Carolina), James Pyle (North Carolina)
SBI pick: North Carolina. Stanford lacks a true go-to player this time around and can’t even fall back on a particularly outstanding defense. North Carolina is unlikely to give up a goal and has the firepower to score on its own too.
Who do you think will play in the final? Which team do you see winning the College Cup?
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